Small acts of kindness by senior sewing group make big difference

The children dreaded the thought of their ailing mother’s final days.

But to their surprise, they were relieved by what they saw when they entered the room where she was receiving hospice care. A fluffy, curved pillow propped her neck comfortably. A hand-stitched quilt kept her body warm as soothing music played.

The handmade gifts can make all the difference in a dire moment.

“When the family walked in, that’s the visual they got: Mom is cozy, comfortable, calm and peaceful,” recalled Linda Shields, a nurse with Heartland Hospice, based on the North Side. “It’s a real blessing for them.”

For years, such donated items have brought comfort to nursing home residents as well as hospital and hospice patients in central Ohio. But the recipients typically never meet the volunteers who make them.

The dozen or so women call themselves the Service Circle. They meet for several hours every Monday morning at the Gillie Community Senior Center on Columbus’ Northeast Side, in a room filled with the whir of sewing machines and the laughter of longtime friends.

Using mostly donated materials, the group knits and sews blankets, quilts, garment protectors, bags that attach to walkers, neck and body-positioning pillows, and pocket-sized cloths with written prayers attached, among other creations. While some supplies are purchased, such as stuffing and thread, the group mostly uses leftover scraps of material from community donors.

They distribute all items to people in need, mostly older adults, by staying in touch with the places that serve them.

“They put a little bit of love in every stitch,” Shields said.

Though the group has existed for nearly 20 years, it keeps a low profile. Knowing the items they make will bring somebody else happiness is satisfying enough, said volunteer Geneva Jones, 79, of the Northeast Side.

Volunteers often take special requests from their clients, including making items that are Buckeyes scarlet and gray, or patriotic red, white and blue to honor veterans.

Two popular gifts for people with Alzheimer’s disease are hand protectors, to keep them from injuring their hands with their fingernails if they clench, and soft activity mats covered with sensory items such as beads, buttons, photos, pockets, yarn, zippers and tiny stuffed animals.

The mats reduce fidgeting and can be calming, Jones said.

Anyone age 50 or older can visit the center and become a Service Circle member, even people without sewing experience. Those volunteers cut materials and stuff pillows. “We’re one big family,” Jones said.

For some participants, that’s not just a metaphor.

Emma Jo Dolan, 93, the group’s most experienced volunteer, lured her daughter to the cause a few years ago, after the latter retired from real estate. Now the pair, who live together on the Northeast Side, sew each Monday together.

Dolan has been sewing for about 80 years.

“I like helping people out, and this is the way I can do it,” she said.

It beats sitting at home twiddling her thumbs, she joked.

She might be on to something. Several studies indicate that volunteering can curb challenges associated with aging.

The Corporation for National and Community Service’s most recent report on the topic, for example, found that after one year of volunteering, 46 percent of its Senior Corps members reported improved health and well-being, 63 percent reported decreased feelings of isolation and 70 percent reported fewer symptoms of depression.

More than 21 million older adults in the United States volunteer, with an estimated yearly economic benefit of more than $77 billion, according to the group.

When the Sewing Circle goes to work on Monday mornings, receiving recognition isn’t on their minds, said 67-year-old Jody White, Dolan’s daughter.

“Most of us have had a loved one go into the hospital, or hospice, and we appreciated the ways people helped us out at that time,” White said. “We do it to give back. It’s not for the glory; it’s for the patients in need.”


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